2015-09-04 / Sports

Trojans hope lights shine bright for season opener

Sports Staff Writer

Thornton Academy’s Austin McCrum tries to score during last year’s game against Sanford. Tonight, the Trojans will host the Spartans in their lone night game of the season at Hill Stadium. 
Journal Tribune File Photo Thornton Academy’s Austin McCrum tries to score during last year’s game against Sanford. Tonight, the Trojans will host the Spartans in their lone night game of the season at Hill Stadium. Journal Tribune File Photo High school football on Friday nights is a tradition that goes back for decades. But not at Thornton Academy.

Though the program has been around for more than a century, the Trojans had played just one night game at home in its history until the school started a new tradition two years ago.

After lights were installed at Hill Stadium a few years ago soccer, field hockey and lacrosse teams at TA started playing home night games for the first time. But the football team, which had a tradition of playing Saturday afternoon home games, didn’t join the crowd at first.

But the players asked for it, according to Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens. So two years ago, coming off their first state championship in two decades, the Trojans took the field at Hill Stadium on a Friday night, under the lights.

It was a memorable first Friday night home game as part of a new tradition, as the Trojans rallied to beat Scarborough, 19-15. That was TA’s home opener, but it was the third game of the season.

To satisfy all parties, the team agreed to play one home game on a Friday night while playing the other three in the traditional Saturday afternoon time slot.

“It’s something that we, a couple years back, decided that we’d do one a year, so it kind of remains special,” said Thornton football coach Kevin Kezal. “It’s not something that’s going to happen every week.”

“It was a smash success from the beginning. The players really enjoyed it. The spectators certainly enjoyed it as well,” said Stevens. “I think it created a really neat atmosphere.”

Last year, the Friday night home game came in week two, against Noble in TA’s second home game of the season. The rout was on, as the Trojans rolled to a 73-0 victory.

“We’ve been fortunate,” said Kezal. “We’ve had two great games, and great turnouts for both of them.”

The third edition of the Friday night home game stands to special as well, as it will be Thornton’s season opener – the first time in the tradition that will be the case.

“We got a real good football team coming in. It’s the first game of the year, so there’s a lot of unknowns on both parts,” Kezal said of hosting Sanford tonight. “Certainly it’s going to be a tough game. I know we’re going to have a great turnout from the student body and our fans, and I know our kids are excited to play.”

Sanford football coach Mike Fallon, who has been a part of more than 100 Friday night home games during his career, is eager to see what all the fuss is about.

“There is nothing like Friday night high school football – no matter where the game is,” said Fallon. “This will be the first night game in my 26 years of coaching that is at Thornton Academy, which makes things all that more exciting. They have a beautiful facility and draw well, I’m sure the stadium will be energized when the ball gets kicked at 7 o’clock.”

Stevens said the choice of the home – and season – opener had more to do with scheduling than anything else. He said he reserves the third home game of the season for Homecoming – and with a dance afterward Saturday afternoons are a must – and the fourth and final one for Senior Day. And the first two home games often have better weather than the last two, which is another factor Stevens has taken into consideration.

This year that left Sanford and Cheverus as the possible games to choose from. Stevens said the former was the better choice when all factors were considered.

“We thought this might be a great way to start off the season. Sanford is a longtime rival. It’s Labor Day weekend,” said Stevens. “For us it was a really nice fit.” Thornton Academy is 2-0 after the first two Friday night home games, a fact that Kezal shrugged off as part of his team being strong at home in recent years no matter the day of the week. He said getting a third win in as many years on the special night will come down to the basics of football: blocking, tackling and execution.

Though he doesn’t prepare for the lone Friday night home game any different than the other seven games on the schedule, Kezal does admit that the game does have its special place on the calendar.

“I think it’s fun. It’s something that doesn’t happen a lot, so I think a lot of people come out, they want to see it,” said Kezal. “Certainly we’re excited about (tonight).”

Sports Staff Writer Wil Kramlich can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or sports@journaltribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @ WilTalkSports.

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